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On the other hand, I do think that we experience apprehension when operations are found to involve a destructive capacity. In terms of the digital matrix, it is possible to change the symbolic information contained in one of its slots with another symbol without retaining any history of such an exchange. In terms of something we do everyday, like communicate through E-mail, it is possible to erase or overwrite one's correspondence without the hope of retrieving it. No doubt many of us here have tried in vain to rescue from oblivion with some "unerasing" tool a file mistakenly erased.


As it was pointed out in one of the questions at my talk, the Internet today actually duplicates our information so that if we lose one version, another version may be archived and retrieved from another part of the system. This is true. But it is also the case that this archival system of backups is organized to discriminate, and I use this word in several senses. What is archivable is such because it is programmed or determined as such. Furthermore, any future reading of such an archive will be technologically determined in a way radically different from the archeological procedures we use on collections of letters and books, even when these are written in yet undeciphered scripts. We know we must rely on computer mechanism for future retrieval rather than rely on our unaugmented senses. This particular aspect of the digital archive is one with which we might feel uncomfortable, specially as it suggests a rethinking of the nature of memory.

While conventional forms of correspondence can be lost or damaged, such occurrences often leave behind some recognizable traces, for example, a fragment of a note, an ink blur in the place where water washed over writing, rendering it illegible, though not unreadable. Our foundations of historical research lie in identifying and extrapolating from such traces. Erasure in the realm of digital representation need not retain this dialectical concept of trace. Properly speaking, there is no erasure of digital information. There seems to be only the possibility of copying it or of copying over it. But it is perhaps not even copying that occurs. Perhaps a better description would be to say that symbols are "placed" into unique addresses. To "erase" in this domain is to "place" a different symbol into a slot in a matrix where previously a different one had been "placed". We might add that symbols are encoded into (a) place, into an address. Each address frames an entryway into the symbol located there.
  But what does this have to do with how we experience digital representations? Well, quite a bit and very little. Most of these processes for which I have been trying to find a proper articulation occur at sizes and speeds whose scales are quite divorced from our sense of experience. In the course of experiencing digital representation most of us will not be concerned with the status of each bit, let alone remember it. It is here that the "experience" of digital representation needs to be explored further.

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